THIBODAUX - Right along First Street by the northern edge of the Nicholls State campus, Bayou Lafourche flows gently and slowly.
On the eastern edge of campus stands a seemingly endless supply of sugar cane, growing tall and swaying in the breeze. Across Bowie Street is a giant, open grid of football fields, striped and ready for a thousand-plus people to use.
Toward the southern edge stands a small cluster of restaurants.
Bayous, sugar cane, shrimp poboys and heat. Here, in the summertime, it’s easy to find them all.
Or, as was the case at about 1 p.m. Friday, you could also find two Super Bowl champion quarterbacks, side by side, cruising together in a golf cart down Ardoyne Road, plain as day.
If Peyton and Eli are in town, it must be time for the Manning Passing Academy.
“We’ve got that huge field out there. You’ve got (enough) dorms to house this many people. And we always want it to be in Louisiana,” Peyton Manning said. “It’s a great place to hold this thing. ... The plan is for us to be here and stay because everything works really well.”
About 1,200 campers have descended on Nicholls this week for the Mannings’ 16th annual camp - and while Archie Manning, the family patriarch and camp founder, stressed Friday that the event is “not like what goes on in basketball. This isn’t a blue-chip camp” - it has become a yearly meeting place for high school coaches, college quarterbacks and NFL stars alike.
This summer is, however, at least a little different.
It hasn’t been a typical offseason for any NFL player, what with the lockout and all. It hasn’t been a typical offseason for the Mannings, either.
Peyton Manning had offseason neck surgery for the second year in a row, and as the camp got into full swing Friday morning, he was not seen throwing passes.
Manning stressed that because of the lockout, he’s not able to see the team trainers he’s come to know and trust, so he’s being “very cautious” this summer.
Still, the 35-year-old knows the drill. In addition to last year’s neck surgery, Peyton Manning had offseason surgery on his left knee twice in 2008, and he’s famous for his tireless work and preparation.
“I had a healthy 2010 season and played every play,” he said. “That’s my goal again this year: to rehab this and be ready to go for the 2011 season.”
Beyond that, when it came to non-camp issues, Peyton Manning was mostly curt.
He, Drew Brees and Tom Brady were among the names represented in the NFL players’ antitrust lawsuit, but Peyton Manning bristled when a reporter asked if he should play a larger role in the lockout negotiations.
“At this point, it’s a lot of talk between the lawyers, and I don’t have a law degree,” he said. “I’m involved, and I know everything that I need to know.”
Peyton Manning did add, however, that a few campers asked Thursday if there would be an NFL season.
His response: “I certainly believe that there will be. That’s all I know to tell them.”
Added Eli Manning: “I think everybody’s anxious. We’re excited about hopefully getting this thing figured out and playing football. I’m a football player, and that’s what I want to do.”
The Manning brothers both helped organize player workouts with their teams (Peyton with the Colts, Eli with the Giants), but Eli Manning acknowledged that draftees and rookies will be in catch-up mode when training camps open.
“I think that’s just going to be the case,” Eli Manning said. “(We were) trying to get some of them caught up on the offense and some of the basic routes and basic terminology. But hopefully we can get to training camp on time and have a full training camp and try to learn the system.”
As for Peyton, he declined to talk about how well he can throw (if at all). And although his wife, Ashley, gave birth to twins (one boy, one girl) in March, Peyton Manning said he didn’t want to talk about family life, either, saying it should be private.
Archie, for his part, said he and wife Olivia love being grandparents. Eli and his wife, Abby, also had a daughter in March, giving Archie and Olivia six grandchildren (their oldest son, Cooper, already has three kids).
“It’s not bad. Not bad at all,” he said. “A lot of fun.”